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Newbie's ideas for good woodworking chisels...am I way off base?


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Recently, my passion for woodworking has been rekindled.  I spent a few years building and installing high-end custom cabinetry and shutters several years back, before pursuing my current career as a paramedic.  Paramedicine is typically characterized by long, loooooooooong hours (often more than 100 hours/week) and pitifully low wages (most of the "life-savers" who respond to your emergencies make a lower hourly wage less than that of a teenager working at In-n-Out Burger....hence the 100+ hours/week) and so after 8 years I have found myself in dire need of a hobby.  While much of my previous experience was done using expensive power tools, I have found myself very interested in the idea of hand crafting wood and even the tools for woodworking.


In my research and purchasing of tools, I began to entertain the notion of making my own chisels and plane irons.  A premium 2 3/8" wide plane iron made of 3/32" O1 steel is roughly $40 from Hock Tools, whereas 18" of 2.5" wide O1 steel of the same thickness would cost me roughly $28+s/h. Likewise, with good O1 steel chisels running around $70/ea, I could theoretically make four or five for the price of one.  Further reading and research led me to a number of ideas and techniques used to make premium hand tools, such as laminating a piece of high-carbon tool steel to mild steel or wrought iron to create a tool with that was able to take and keep a finely honed edge, while still retaining the shock absorbing and impact resistance properties of the milder steel (these were also much easier to sharpen as most of the bevel being hones was made up of the milder steel).  I also read that tool steels typically contain 0.8%-1.2% carbon (with the higher quality steels having more carbon) and learned how the grain structure and molecular structures affect how finely and edge may be honed and how well it keeps that edge.


I would also note that my father-in-law has been a professional ferrier for about 30 years, and has a small propane forge, anvil, various hammers and tongs, as well as a working understanding of blacksmithing (at least as it relates to shoeing horses).  Thus, I have access to basic tools and enough knowledge to hopefully keep me from burning myself too badly-although, if I DO get burnt...well, there's something I HAVE been extensively trained to handle ;-)


Now on to my harebrained schemes...


1)  Use mild steel repurposed from old horseshoes, and forge weld a 0.03125" thick piece of O1 steel to the back of one side (using perhaps sand or borax as flux?), creating the laminated edge that is highly sought after in quality chisels and plane irons.  The stock could then be rough shaped on the anvil, finished with files or grinders, and then heat treated and tempered before honing a final edge.


2)  Simply anneal 0.25" thick O1 stock; then shape, heat treat, and temper accordingly.


3)  Heat the O1 stock to critical temperature, then air-cool 2-3x before forge welding and/or shaping (I read in one thread that it is a common method of further reducing the grain size of the steel)


4)  Use a case hardening method to increase the carbon content of the O1 stock from roughly 0.90% to (hopefully) something closer to 1.2% (I have a video tutorial/lesson by the American Gunsmithing Institute that explains and demonstrates case hardening small parts using a propane torch and carburizing liquid that is brushed onto the steel)



Well, these are the ideas I am throwing around in my head. I would greatly appreciate any advise and/or caution from those with more knowledge on the subject.


Thank you in advance!


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Learn the basics of smithing before worrying about forge welding!


Case hardening of O-1 you are more likely to mess it up than improve it.



I'd suggest that once you got the techniques of working hot steel down you start with making a set of mortising chisels---all steel out of auto/pickup coil spring

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Tang type chisels rather than the more traditional socket style will be easier to start out with most likely. I'd agree about starting out learning the basics 1st. Get some mild steel that is cheap and see if you can't 1st get the shape you want before dealing with things like heat treating and so on. Have your father in law come by and work with you some to help you get the basic shaping down.

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1)  I cant imagine forge welding a shim stock of O-1 to anything, wont hold the heat long enough

2)  Workable after you learn to move and shape metal

3)  O-1 in these thinner sections does not work that way, sorry

4)  Thomas nailed it, you will ruin it.


Your initial assumption of cost of steel vs cost of finished chisel forgets a few things,  So I wil change you tools name and cost to another tools we all use, with its materials cost for an example.  A NEW chevy pickup truck sells for  about 40,000,  but it only has 3,500 worth of material, and 3,000 labor, the rest is mark up, so why do we waste our money buying them, lets make our own,  we can get the steel from the junk yard to save even more money......


I know that sound foolish, but its not that far off, because the added cost for the chisel is partly due to design and training to get the metal into that shape, and by shape I also meant internal grain structure, not only the outside.


One major thing here is that a pick up truck will take a long tiime to figure out and build, but you can learn to make good high quality chisels in a year or so, but you have to start at the beginning,    Just like your medical training, where we get the standard FA an CPR and AED before we lean to adjust the setting of the larger DeFib units, or learning some skeletal anatomy before using traction splints,  How about I run an IV before I now the dif between a vien and an artery ?


Glad to see excitement,  dont let that go away,  Try option 2 you mentioned, learn what you can from your ferrier and we will try to show you a few things here also,  this wont be a one day or even a month long project,  rather its a life journey, Welcome to I Forge Iron and the wonderful world of Steel in general.

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I say Go For It!

When I was in college, I got into making carving chisels for some british master carvers. I just jumped in with no experience at all. I read Alexander Waygers book, http://www.amazon.com/Complete-Modern-Blacksmith-Alexander-Weygers/dp/0898158966  I used it to learn the basics. The chisels I was making were offset chisels with a tang for the handle end. I used drill rod from McMaster Carr for the steel. It worked great and I still use some of the chisels I made for myself today.


Enjoy the ride and welcome to IFI!

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Price of tools isn't the problem, it's the feeling of working with a tool you made.
Be careful, you'll start out a wood worker who wants to make a few tools and end up a blacksmith that works wood.
I really wouldn't wory about the fancy steel edged tools, it's more a marketing gimmic. Old tools were made that way because steel was expensive, old tools were better because they were made by craftsmen not by steeling the edge. There are good shock resistant steels that will hold a fine edge.
Welcome to the addiction, enjoy yourself.

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I started blacksmithing to make woodworking tools I couldn't afford.  I've made a couple of chisels, draw knives, etc.


It can be done.  And you can get a high end chisel for the cost of a cheap one.  And you can adjust the temper to suit you.  Your first ones will be ugly even if they cut better than cheap or mid-grade ones.  And tangs will be easier than sockets.


That being said, I'd avoid O1 to start.  To get the most out of O1 you need to soak at temperature without that you won't have the best tool you can make.  Start with 10XX where XX is > 75 (80 + would be better).  If you need a source for materials, check out the New Jersey Steel Baron.  (Even 1095, which would like a short soak, would get a better result without a soak than O1 without a soak.)


You can forge or grind.  I prefer forging but that is because I find grinding tedious.  There are plenty of threads on heat treating you can peruse to get a handle on that.


If you want a laminated blade, I'd buy 10XX where XX is < 20.  Horse shoes are likely what ever is cheap and may harden with a heat treat, which would defeat the purpose of laminating.

If you're willing to case harden, you may be able to fake laminating.  If you harden the cutting surface of a low carbon steel it may act like a laminated blade.

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I know more than one very accomplished woodworker-turned-blacksmith that started out with the 'I just wanted to make myself a chisel' quandry, slippery slope my friend :) but one of the best slip-n-slides you can ride!


given also your reference to in-n-out burger there is a better than 80% chance that you are somewhere in California? (of course there are pockets in Nevada, Arizona, Utah and Texas according to el google) drop a regional location into your profile and you might be able to get some face to face training from somebody near you who might have more experience with forge welding high carbon bits and hardening that are probably less common in the farrier trade.


I cant recall if it was here on the forum or a conversation in person, but somebody said that they gauge their willingness to purchase someone else's metalwork by a comparison of what they thought it would cost for them to attempt to copy the work and get it right (time learning technique/reverse engineering the method, time to forge, fuel, material, specialized tooling etc) against what the asking price was.  if it was going to cost significantly more to produce their own that justified the purchase price.

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Welcome aboard medic82, glad to have you. If you'll put your general location in the header you might be surprised at how many of the IFI gang live within visiting distance. NOTHING flattens the learning curve like working with someone who has experience.


I believe the only demographic larger than wood guys who just wanted THAT chisel and ended up blacksmiths are farriers who sidestepped into it. Few things are as satisfying as using tools you've made with your own hands. Of course having someone walk up to you and say thanks for their life has got to be on another plane altogether. I made a point of dropping by Station 62 and thanking the crew for mine. Last time they saw me I was broken, bleeding, blowing blood with every breath and fighting like the devil as they loaded me on a medevac chopper. That story is in the "Prayers" section here, not that it matters that much. I just like to say thanks to EMS guys when I see them, for me and everyone they go to the wall for.


Anyway, get your Dad to break you in at the anvil, he'll love it and you'll get the advantage of his years of experience. It's not about making A thing, it's about learning to make things. What matters is moving the steel how you want it to move, doesn't matter much what kind of steel it is, even less what you want it to do. what matters is teaching your eye, hands, muscles, ears, etc. the ways of steel.


Keep your eyes open at yard/garage/etc. sale for usable steel, I like allen wrenches and chisels for basic tools. Hex wrenches make excellent chasing tools and small blades, punches, chisels, etc. Metal chisels and such are good steel as well. If you have a spring shop in town you can stop in and ask to buy some drops, the ends of stock that are too small to use for springs but it's still new steel. Spring steel isn't going to make really high quality wood tools but it's going to be hard to move like tool steel and better for the learning experience it's forgiving in heat treatment so you actually get to see a finished tool sooner.


Frosty The Lucky.

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I would recomend this book

"Toolmaking for Woodworkers" by Ray Larsen. 




I'll second that suggestion. I don't know what I was thinking, it's sitting right next to my chair. A friend lent it to me so maybe it isn't in the same brain file as a book I own.


Frosty The Lucky.

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go to a yard sale and buy a box of old worn and broken files for $5, this will give you some cheap w2, 1095 type steels to practice with. it rusts but it sharpens close to O1.


if you are looking for O1 a lot of companies sell their leftover steel to surplus steel buyers. You should be able to buy some plate or flat bar fairly cheaply if you are prepared to keep an eye on their stock list and wait for it to come in.


it may not be listed as O1, a lot of O1 steel is sold by brand names ketos, colonial no6, carpenter O1, oilcrat etc.


from my suppliers (in Oz) prices ATM listed at $3.00/kg and go to about $7.00/kg for O1


1070 for rough blades $2.00/kg

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